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9 questions you’re not asking your dentist ― but should be

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Dental fear is common in America, and it has been estimated that 50 percent of Americans don’t go to the dentist consistently. Regular trips to the dentist are important for your health, both oral and overall. The human mouth is a hotbed for bacteria, mainly good, but also some harmful types. Without proper oral care, harmful bacteria can get out of control. When there’s too much bacteria growing in your mouth, it can spread to your vital organs or result in tooth infections, decay or gum disease.

Gum disease, or periodontal disease, has been linked to America’s biggest killer: heart disease. Periodontitis, a severe form of gum disease, has also been linked to diabetes, osteoporosis and pregnancy complications such as premature birth and low birth weight. This is why it’s important to take care of your teeth regularly, but also to go to the dentist on a regular basis. Whether you’re diligently devoted to your oral hygiene or haven’t been to the dentist in years, here’s what you should be asking.

READ MORE: How to Save on Dental Costs

Choosing a dentist

1. Does the practice take my dental insurance?
If you have dental insurance, you’ll want to find an office that takes your insurance. Dental insurance is inexpensive, so if you don’t have coverage you should consider buying some, especially if you haven’t been to the dentist in a while. Depending on your oral health status, you might need a few procedures that could cost more than twice as much without insurance.

READ MORE: How to Tell If You Have the Wrong Health Insurance

2. Will the staff review the cost of procedures before treatment is done?
Before you agree to any procedures, you should know their costs. Ask if the staff will go over costs with you when you know which procedures the dentist recommends, if any. If you want to be extra diligent (and have the time), you can ask about the costs of specific procedures and compare them to other practices’ charges, or check against online estimates.

3. What can I expect during the first exam?
The first visit should include discussions about your dental history and medications, a full examination, cleaning and X-rays, if necessary.

4. How am I expected to pay?
Each office has different payment schedules, so it’s in your best interest to ask about payment options before your first visit. This way, you won’t get stuck with costly late charges.

READ MORE: How to Cut Health Costs

5. How are instruments sterilized?
You might not feel comfortable grilling the dentist’s staff about their attention to sterilization, but this question might pay off. An office that doesn’t heat sterilize all equipment between patients should raise a red flag. Key terms that should come from the staff are autoclave or chemiclave, the two leading methods of heat sterilization.

6. Does the dentist keep up with new advancements in science?
Science and technology evolve rapidly, and for a dentist this means that new treatment options become available often. Dentists who regularly attend seminars and trade shows or take continuing education courses will be up to date on advancements in dentistry. This is important because these new treatment options may be less expensive, time consuming or painful than older treatments.

During the visit

7. Do you have any recommendations for my diet?
Your dentist may also be able to tell what you’re eating by examining your mouth. Usually, your dentist can tell if you’re eating too much sugar or acids, or not enough vitamin C. He or she may discuss eating less sugar and when to eat sugar for minimal damage to your teeth.

READ MORE: The Benefits of Healthy Eating

8. What should my care and maintenance schedule be?
Everybody’s health needs are different, and that includes your oral health needs. This means that you may need to come in less or more frequently for exams and cleanings, or that brushing and flossing may not be enough for your home care routine. Your dentist should be able to give you a customized plan for care, which should include home-care methods and an office visit schedule.

9. Is there anything I should tell my family doctor?
Since oral hygiene is linked to so many other bodily conditions, your dentist may find signs of non-oral diseases in your mouth. Your dentist may also see early evidence of side effects from drugs you’re taking, in which case you’ll want to talk with your regular doc about switching meds.

Lacie Glover writes for NerdWallet Health, a website that empowers consumers to find high quality, affordable health care and insurance.